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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
PINEY WOODS BELLE
Label from E. B. Peter, Leesburg FL
Sign sponsored by the E. B. Peter Family
The Peter family tree has strong roots going back to Joseph Peter born 1770 in Sandiver, Baden, Germany. The family arrived in Lake County in 1882 and settled at Orange Bend, small community between Leesburg and Lisbon on Lake Harris. Henry Julius Peter and his 5 children moved from Macon. One of the sons was Emmett Blackshear Peter. His middle name was taken from the doctor who delivered him on June 2, 1872 in Macon, GA.
Emmett Blackshear Peter, Sr. married his secretary, Mary Ellen Brown, in 1917 in a ceremony at the Mote Morris House. Bishop Morrison conducted the ceremony. They moved to Sunnyside and lived in a bungalow. Later as the family grew, they moved to a house on Herndon across from what was Lee Elementary. Emmett started in the citrus business when he was 18 with two mules and a wagon. He'd go from grove to grove, buying citrus to ship by rail to other states. These buyers are known in the industry as ‘bird dogs’. They provide a valuable service, especially for smaller growers that had a problem finding a market for their crop. Eventually Emmett saved enough money to buy 125 acres near Leesburg and build a packinghouse. It was located in Leesburg on 6th Street and the railroad tracks.
The Florida Department of Agriculture report on fruit shipments for the 1938-39 season shows E. B. Peter Packing of Leesburg moved 45,578 boxes of fruit. This was not a large volume. There were only 11 packinghouses listed for Lake County that year. The Peter Packinghouse was not listed in the 1933 report that had 27 houses in Lake County. This is strange because in 1931 E. B. Peter was one of 66 shipper members of the Florida Citrus Growers Clearing House Association. This organization boasted of having 10,000 grower members in addition to the shippers. Their goal was to assure mature high-quality fruit was shipped and to maximize returns to growers. Mr. Peter was also a member of the Fruitman’s Association in 1931. This organization was involved in assuring President Roosevelt’s New Deal did not ‘harm’ Florida citrus growers.
A list of business in Leesburg in 1923 shows E. B. Peter’s office at 401 W. Main Street.
The 1921 Quarterly Bulletin from the Department of Agriculture lists the results of a fruit test for E. B. Peter, and the 1918 publication shows tests run on Peter’s fruit. Having fruit tested for internal quality does not necessarily mean he was operating a packinghouse, but as a ‘bird dog’ he may have wanted to see the quality of the fruit he was buying. At least it appears Mr. Peter was in the citrus business in 1918.
Citrus has been part of the Peter family for several generations. In the business records was an invoice for a ‘wind machine’. These devices are used to mix warm air aloft with cold air that has settled close to the ground in a grove. Many growers installed them especially in ‘pockets’. Emmett, Jr. purchased one and Emmett, III remembers when they attempted to operate it during the first freeze that came after it was installed. Note ‘attempted’ for the machine would not start! The machine is still standing surrounded by a few cabbage palms and is known as ‘Judas’ by the family. Ah, the adventures of being a citrus grower.
Frog Log is a family treasure that Emmett, Sr. established on Lake Harris. This is excerpts from the ‘information’ notice posted at the ‘cabin’ written by Emmett, Jr.
The original Frog Log Camp, the present kitchen, was the abandoned railroad station at Sadie, skidded to the site via mule sled in 1915 by my father, Emmett Peter Sr., shortly after he bought the Kaufmann Grove. Two years later, my father proposed to my mother – his secretary, Mary Ellen Brown – under the big oak tree. They were married in 1917. Many years later in 1944, I proposed to Marjorie under the same tree, as did Murray Tucker and Marcia and Emmett Peter III and Terre James. Our daughter Melanie was married under the tree.
After Frog Log was enlarged in the 1950’s, it became the family guest cottage. Although hundreds of people have stayed here, we can’t think of one famous or noteworthy guest. The camp house is headquarters for other creatures such as blue herons who fish from the dock; red-winged blackbirds, cormorants and several colonies of osprey, a fish hawk closely related to the eagle. In addition, there are families of playful otters. An alligator will drift by occasionally, but don’t be afraid, for no gator has ever been known to come ashore here. Yes, there are some snakes, but they won’t bother you unless you step on one. Just watch where you walk and stay out of deep grass or weeds.
The family continues to enjoy the Lake Harris ‘escape’ Emmett, Sr. established over 100 years ago!
Other E. B. Peter Labels
View the Jerry Chicone collection
View the Jim Ellis collection
Most packers had several labels they could use. The primary color of the label indicated the grade of the citrus in the box. Blue was US #1, the best quality from the packer. Red was US #2, a step down and occasionally another color was used for fruit not making US#1 or US #2. It should be noted that almost all the Florida fruit that did not meet US#1 standard was due to external appearance. The internal quality was the same! Florida conditions, namely a hot wet summer, produced a large number of pests that would damage the surface of the fruit. The primary one is very small mite, specifically the rust mite. This pest can produce a dark brown or russet blemish on the surface of the fruit. Several fungal organisms also can cause damage to the peal. Melanose produces small raised spots producing a fine “sand paper’ feel. When heavy these lesions can cover a large portion of the fruit surface as well. Windy conditions during spring when the fruit are small cause surface damage as well (this is known as wind scar – the small fruit would rub against leaves producing a superficial blemish to the peel).
Florida growers have to deal with these superficial blemishes because the consumer is looking for a perfect looking piece of fruit. Sugar content cannot be determined by looking the fruit, so don’t be quick to decide that if an orange is not perfect on the outside that does not mean it will not taste good. Florida citrus might not be the prettiest in the bin, but they cannot be beat for taste.
To learn more about Lake County citrus click here
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